Tuesday, October 9, 2007

The City of Gaudi

We now begin a very special chapter in the history of Barcelona, that dedicated to the work of the architectural genius, Antoni Gaudi, and which we begin in the so called "manzana de la discordia", in Passeig de Gracia between Consell de Cent street and Arago street.
In this short space of Passeig de Gracia we find the different styles of the most important architects of Modernist art which completely predominated in Catalonia at the end of the last century and the beginnning of this present one.
Of this architectural "discordi" the first example is the house of Lleo Morera, number 35 by Domenech i Montaner, who gave free rein to his preference for ornamentation. Number 39 is a house in Luis XVI style, by Enric Sagnier, but treated with discretion in its modernistic style. Number 41 is Amatller house, by Puig i Cadafalch, an expert in restyling the elements of northern Gothic and Renaissance Catalan. The next house number 43, Batllo house, work of Gaudi where he expresses his personal interpretation of Modernism, with the cult of the curved line. It is worth noting that Gaudi used the form of human bones for the configuration of the masses, balconies and columns of this house. A little further on in the same Passeig de Gracia at the corner of Provenca street we find another priceless work of Gaudi. Mila house, better known as the "Pedrera" which was begun in 1905. It is said that when Gaudi was asked to justify the curvilinear volumnes of this construction he replied "They are explained by their connection with the forms of the mountains surrounding Barcelona, visible from the site of the house" On the other hand, it has also been said that in his conception of this mass of stone, Gaudi wished to portray the undulation of waves.
We must recognize that Gaudi, carried away with his intrepid inspiration, managed, with the "Pedrera", to suggest a superior destiny of transcendental aspiration rather than a house with flats and shops to rent.
Not far away, between Provenga, Mallorca, Sardenya and Marina streets we find the most imposing of Gaudi's works, the Temple de la Sagrada Familia. Work on the construction of this church was begun in 1882, by the architects Martorell and De Villar. It was not until 1891 that Gaudi took over the direction of this project, destined to be the great Cathedral of Barcelona. His death, he was knocked down by a tram on 7th June 1926, prevented him. Even though he could not finish the work, at least his task was continued. When he took over the work, he modified his predecesors' project. He finished the crypt changing its structure for one with a more ambitious and original architectural structuring. In 1893 the apse was finished, still with signs of Gothic influence. Immediately afterwards the construction of the completely original Nativity facade was begun. He planned it in 1891, but during the construction it was changed in accordance with his constant desire to modify his artistic conceptions. By 1925, one of the four spires which now crowns this facade had been added. The other three had only been begun when Gaudi died in 1926, they were finished later, exactly as he had planned them.

With the Sagrada Familia Gaudi made an authentic demonstration of his artistic conceptions, at the same time showing a masterly technique, with absolute confidence in his own ability to defy the problems of disequilibrium and disharmony. This is Gaudi's greatest work and its continuation may respect Gaudi's original project. The church will have five naves without butresses, with an apse aisle of hexagonal radial chapels, covered by ellipsoidal vaulting supported on sloping columns. All the plans of the building are complicated hyperboloids. There will be three enormous entrances: the Eastern one, dedicated to the Nativity, the Western one , dedicated to the Passior and Death of our Lord, and the Southern facade will be that of the Glory and Resurection, the biggest of all. Each entrance will have four spires, like the two already finished. A total of twelve spires will represent the twelve apostles. Four taller spires around the dome will symbolise the four evangelists. These four will surround an even higher one, 170 metres, representing the Saviour. It should be mentioned that at present the work of Gaudi, who is buried in the crypt of the Sagrada Familia, is being carried on by the Catalan artist Subirachs, who has finished the Western facade, breaking with Gaudi's style in a rather radical way, printing a new style on the facade of the Passion and Death, almost diametrically opposed to the Gaudinian conception, but standing out in the general framework of the Sagrada Familia and responding to the particular style of this Catalan artist, questioned, not so much for his modern artistic style as for its application in the church of Gaudi. His work is however, admired and seduces for its clean lines, the detailed cut of the figures, as well as the perfect harmony of the volumes without excessive pathos in the scene represented, which is, at this moment the normal entrance to the church.
We now go to the high part of the city, the Salut district, at the end of Travesera de Dalt, to visit the Parque Guell. It is the result of of donation made to the city by Comte Guell in 1900, with the express condition that Gaudi should take charge of urbanising the 15 hectares of land as and how he thought fit.
If the projected residential colony came to nothing, at least Barcelona could count with these gardens, unique in the world.
In 1912 Gaudi added the monumental bench in the "hipostila" hall, called the "Sala de las cien columnas" even though there are only 86 of them, it borders the upper terrace, intended to be the amphitheatre of a Greek theatre. It is something which, while starting off with painting, sculpture and architecture, cannot be contained within the normal limits of any of them Besides the constantly curved forms, of the bench bordering the upper square of the park, it is composed of fragments of Manises ceramic, in different colours and sizes, arranged in the form of an enormous collage. The great variety of colours, the unforseen placing and combination has provoked great admiration, not only from the visitors and admirers, but also among great art critics. Le Corbusier wrote "Gaudi is the man who has had most architectural creative force among all the men of his generation".
In the centre of Parc Guell is the Casa Museu Gaudi where the famous architect lived until 1926, the year he died.
This house contains several objects which belonged to the artist, such as, paintings, personal objects, mementos and furniture by the same Gaudi.
Other works no less representative of Gaudi's genius are scattered throughout the city. In chronological order we mention first, Vicens house, in Carolinas street, built between 1878 and 1880, when Gaudi was 26 years old.
The Colegio de Santa Teresa de Jesus, in Ganduxer street, built in 1889, is a demonstration of just how much can be done with red bricks and parabolic arches.
The Finca Guell in Pedralbes, where the artist introduced a Moorish influence.The wrought iron entrance gate is outstanding, representing an original dragon.
Calvet house, built between 1898 and 1899 in Caspe street, a personal and free interpretation of Baroque style and his ornamental preferences with wrought iron.
Final we must mention Figueras house in Bellesquard street, better known as "Bellesguard" another, personal interpretation of Gaudi, this time in Gothic style. Besides the solid cross, crowning a daringly slender spire, the interior is well worth study. Gaudi built it between 1900 and 1902 on the ruins of the summer residence used by King Marti.

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